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African identities to be subject of April 26 conference

Noted African philosopher, novelist and linguist Valentin Mudimbe will keynote a Saturday, April 26, conference on African identities at Stanford's Bechtel International Center.

The conference, which begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., is hosted by the Joint Stanford-Berkeley Center for African Studies and is open to the public. It includes nearly a dozen panel discussions by scholars studying the culture, politics and economic development of various countries on the continent.

Mabel Phifer, a higher education specialist in the use of technology for distance learning, will open the conference with a talk on her efforts to bring distance learning to Africa. Phifer is president and chief executive officer of International Telecommunications Consortium Inc., a management umbrella for four satellite networks, including one that links 105 predominantly black colleges in the United States via satellite for telecourses, conferences and video productions.

Phifer's talk will be followed by simultaneous panel sessions at 10:15 a.m. One will focus on religion as a source of identity; another on refugees, diaspora and "ex-settlers" in former European colonies, and the development of Zulu identity; another on the impact of social change on identity; and a fourth on government and politics, including the United Nations' former peacekeeping mission in Angola, the 1995 Tanzanian elections and the role of elite political instability in development.

The conference location will switch to Campbell Recital Hall in the Braun Music Center for Mudimbe's 1 p.m. keynote lecture, which is titled "Open the Social Sciences: Reflections on the Limits of Disciplines." Mudimbe is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of French and Italian and of Comparative Literature at Stanford. A prolific author, he has written extensively about African history, religion and society and is regarded as an important critic of Western discourses on Africa.

Afternoon panels will begin at 2:45 p.m. in the Bechtel International Center. They will focus on the factors that influence identity. One panel will be on the role of language, another on education, a third on colonial influences, a fourth on structural and political adjustments, and a fifth on economic development. A plenary session on art and identity will begin at 4:45 p.m.

The Bechtel International Center is located on Mayfield Avenue and Lagunita Drive. Metered parking is available across Lagunita Drive from the center. For more information, contact the Stanford Center for African Studies at (415) 723-0295 or the Berkeley center at
(510) 642-8338.


By Kathleen O'Toole ODY>